Formal Balance versus Informal Balance
Beginning layout editors and designers refer to the basic principles of design to help create their products. Balance, contrast, proportion and unity are the standard design principles, the basic structures and the overall layout of design.
Balance is an especially tricky principle to achieve and the experiences of early designers have helped pave the way for modern designers. The original “formal balance” provided insight for future designers on what not to do.
To satisfy formal balance, early designers identically matched elements such as the copy, headlines, and photos on the page. This balance simply required the right half of the page to match the left side with the same elements. The headlines and photographs towards the bottom of the page were even balanced symmetrically.
However, it was not long before people realized that the formal, symmetrical layout undermined the importance of the news content each day. In simpler terms, the news of the current day did not seem to matter as much as design – the standard layout dictated the content. Because formal balance required the page to be divided down the middle, the balance was created from side to side. Headline schedules, however, universally required important stories to have large headlines and be placed high on the page, creating a challenge for designers to achieve top-to-bottom balance. Big, bold headlines and large photos dominated the top of the page, so inevitably, the bottom section of the newspaper did not receive nearly as much attention. No one is going to take time to read stories that trail off into grayness. The ideas behind what entailed balance needed to change.
Designers are well aware that balance is not achieved by solely matching identical elements on the page. External factors, such as the visual weights of the elements on the page matter. Today designers use an “informal balance”, sectioning the page into modules to balance the right against the left and the top against the bottom (whereas the formal balance matched only the right against the left). Each module contains some graphic weight like a photo, headline, piece or artwork or even white space to help balance the page.
Accomplishing balance in a newspaper can be an ongoing game, but similar to the evolving world of journalism, designers learn to adjust and persevere.
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